September 7th, 2010
09:52 PM ET

Imam: NYC Islamic center 'is the right thing to do'

Editor's Note: CNN's Soledad O'Brien has an exclusive interview with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf on "Larry King Live" Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET. Submit questions for the Imam via iReport here.

The imam at the center of an ugly controversy over an Islamic center near New York's ground zero broke his silence Tuesday, just hours after a broad coalition of Christian, Jewish and Islamic leaders denounced what they described as a rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry across the United States.

"I have been struck by how the controversy has riveted the attention of Americans, as well as nearly everyone I met in my travels," said Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in an editorial published online by the New York Times Tuesday night.

"We have all been awed by how inflamed and emotional the issue of the proposed community center has become," wrote Rauf, who has just returned from a State Department-sponsored Middle East trip to promote U.S.-Muslim relations. "The level of attention reflects the degree to which people care about the very American values under debate: recognition of the rights of others, tolerance and freedom of worship."

The imam was clear about his intentions.

"We are proceeding with the community center, Cordoba House. More important, we are doing so with the support of the downtown community, government at all levels and leaders from across the religious spectrum, who will be our partners. I am convinced that it is the right thing to do for many reasons," he wrote.

Opponents of the plan to build the center say it is too close to the site of the terror attacks and is an affront to the memory of those who died in the al Qaeda strike. Backers cite, among other things, First Amendment rights and the need to express religious tolerance.

Rauf described the center to be built two blocks from the former site of the World Trade Center towers - destroyed by terrorist-hijacked commercial jets on September 11, 2001 - as a "shared space for community activities, like a swimming pool, classrooms and a play space for children."

"There will be separate prayer spaces for Muslims, Christians, Jews and men and women of other faiths," he wrote. "The center will also include a multifaith memorial dedicated to victims of the Sept. 11 attacks."

"I am very sensitive to the feelings of the families of victims of 9/11, as are my fellow leaders of many faiths. We will accordingly seek the support of those families, and the support of our vibrant neighborhood, as we consider the ultimate plans for the community center. Our objective has always been to make this a center for unification and healing."

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke on Tuesday about the plan and criticized politicians he claims are using the issue for political gain ahead of mid-term elections in November.

"This is a political thing that all came up in two months - and its going to go away on November 4th," he said.

Various faith leaders in recent weeks have expressed concerns about hate crimes against American Muslims in the run-up to this weekend's anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terror attacks, which coincide with the holiday of Eid-al-Fitr, marking the conclusion of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Worry over what some observers have termed "Islamophobia" has also been heightened by a Gainesville, Florida, church's plan to burn copies of the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the attacks on New York and Washington.

Earlier Tuesday, a broad coalition of faith leaders gathered in Washington, where they met with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss their concerns.

"To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville planned burning of Qurans 'idiotic and dangerous,'" said Farhana Khera, president of Muslim Advocates, soon after meeting with Holder.

"While it may not be a violation of the law - it may be an act of free speech - it certainly violates our sense of decency," she added about the Florida event.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton echoed those thoughts later when she spoke at a dinner celebration of Iftar, the breaking the daily fast during Ramadan.

"I am heartened by the clear, unequivocal condemnation of this disrespectful, disgraceful act that has come from American religious leaders of all faiths ... as well as secular U.S. leaders and opinion makers," she said.

Separately, founders of the newly formed Interfaith Coalition on Mosques addressed the issue of religious freedom during a news conference at Washington's National Press Club.

"Freedom of religion is a hallmark of this country," said Ingrid Mattson, head of the Islamic Society of North America. It is time to decide "whether we are going to live up to our values."

The coalition released a statement decrying a "disturbing rise in discrimination against Muslims" and declaring that the current "level of hostility, fear mongering and hate speech is unacceptable and un-American."

"We believe the best way to uphold America's democratic values is to ensure that Muslims can exercise the same religious freedom enjoyed by everyone in America," the statement read.

Last week, the Council on American-Islamic Relations launched a series of commercials designed to fight what it called growing Islamophobia. One in the series features a Muslim firefighter who was among the first responders on 9/11.

Opponents of the New York Islamic center are "trying to tell the world and tell Americans that Muslims do not belong here. That Muslims are the others, when we are in fact, all Americans," said Nahad Awad, executive director of the council.

"They're trying to portray Muslims as foreigners. This is a dangerous repeat of history. If it's allowed, it's going to hurt all of us," he said.

In a statement on its website, the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, said it plans to mark the anniversary of the 2001 attacks by burning Qurans this weekend "to warn about the teaching and ideology of Islam, which we do hate as it is hateful."

The pastor of the small church, Terry Jones, has written a book titled "Islam is of the Devil," and the church sells coffee mugs and shirts featuring the phrase.

The U.S. commander in Afghanistan on Monday criticized the church's plan, warning the demonstration "could cause significant problems" for American troops overseas.

"It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan," Gen. David Petraeus said.

Jones told CNN's "American Morning" on Tuesday that he is "taking the general's words" seriously. We are "weighing the situation" and are "praying about it," he said.

But it is "very important that America wakes up," he argued. Radical Islam "must be shown a certain amount of force (and) determination."

The planned event has drawn criticism from Muslims in the United States and overseas, with thousands of Indonesians gathering outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on Sunday to protest the planned Quran burning.

"Those mainly conservative Christians who respond to their Muslim brothers and sisters - their fellow Americans - with anti-Muslim bigotry or hatred, they are openly rejecting... the First Amendment principles of religious liberty which we as evangelical Christians benefit daily," said Rev. Richard Cizik, of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, at the National Press Club.

"And to those who would exercise derision ... bigotry (and) open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith - I say shame on you."

Editor's Note: CNN Justice Producer Terry Frieden passes along this note on the meeting faith leaders had with Attorney General Eric Holder: A senior Justice Department official who was present at the meeting later clarified Holder's comment as follows: "Yes, the Attorney General did refer to the plan [to burn the Qurans] as "idiotic." In his reference to "dangerous" he was specifically pointing to the comments by General Petreus."

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: 'Ground zero mosque' • Church and state • Culture wars • Florida • Houses of worship • Interfaith issues • Islam • Mosque • New York • Quran • United States

soundoff (307 Responses)
  1. Joshua

    "An eye for an eye will only leave the whole world blind"

    September 7, 2010 at 9:52 pm |
  2. Iqbal khan


    September 7, 2010 at 9:51 pm |
  3. Shay

    This reverend is only trying to make a name for himself thanks to the news media who have this plastered all over the news. As for American soldiers in Afghanistan & Iraq, they will get the backlash of this action. I'll bet bin Laden's laughing his butt off. He won't have to recruit anyone, the Reverend is recruiting for him. So for all of you wanting the Quran burned, please go to your local military office and sign up so you too can go to one of those countries and watch the radical Muslims zero in on you. I'll bet the people for the Quran burning are feeling pretty safe in their apartments or home sitting in front of their computers spouting off nonsense are cowards. Get out there and sign up and help protect our soldiers in harms way.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:49 pm |

    Does anyone that supports the book burning understand that such a weak protest doesn`t harm any terrorist but provides a good bit of anti- United States sentiment or have any plan other than to "talk big"?

    September 7, 2010 at 9:48 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      Here is a question for you. Why are we AMERICANS so worried about the ramifications of some feeble religious nut burning some religious books in his front lawn. How did we get into this situation? Pull our troops out, let the oil rich nations figure their own problems out. Let Israel solve their own problems. If any of these nations attack us, nuke them back into the stone age.

      September 7, 2010 at 10:00 pm |
  5. Reality Check

    I'm burning the Twilight series next week, anyone want to join me? Point is ... it's just paper & burning it is meaningless. The real problem is the desire to spit in the face of the author & that's been accomplished, The burning is just theatrics.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      Allah Jib Jab is going to be pissed if you burn his book and dam your virgins, Jesus will forgive if you burn his holy book, Santa will write you off his Christmas list. Don't burn any of Santa's books!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:54 pm |
  6. Ken

    By burning the Quran, you push the line for peaceful protest. The people who go and burn the Quran know what the ramifications are, and plan to exploit the reaction they get from the Muslim/Islamic community by pushing the idea of Islam is dangerous. If I said Christianity is dangerous it self, and decided every Christmas to have a Bible burning, I am pretty sure I would get a negative response and many death threats.

    I am glad I say I am more on the agnostic side when it comes to religion because it seems those who are truly religious seem to have their share of extremist. Why is it that in Christianity, people say it's peaceful, however there are many cases each year where people say they committed a crime in the name of God and a big part can be summed up by people thinking "Do as the bible says or we will punish you...."

    So far by using violence or violently protesting a group of people it seems to come around, much like Karma, and kick us in the butt. Why not take it to a different level and say "Look, we may believe in something different but we can still co-exist and let us help one another to build a better future."

    Take a good look at the history of Afghanistan, you will see how when the Soviet war in Afghanistan took place and how the US was "involved" to help the people of Afghanistan and then how we left there because some people didn't care. For those that enjoy movies more then reading the books: The movie "Charlie Wilson's War" does cover most of this but still is a bit Hollywood.

    We should adopt a official symbolic religion for the United States: Ignorance. Because there seems to be more than enough members, and with an abundance of Ignorance you find a lack of tolerance.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:46 pm |
  7. Joe P Zyck

    "Libchem – Joe P Zyck, that rant right there explains why you're in the 3% minority on this planet."

    And you will still die and there is no golden ring.

    Life sucks, huh?

    Let's go burn some books, then I will be set when I'm gone.


    September 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm |
  8. Jim

    Dont you see that this lunatic evangelical pastor is looking forward to the "end of days" and this is a good way for him keep the flames of hatred burning?

    I wonder if he ever stopped to think "what would Jesus do?"

    September 7, 2010 at 9:37 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      What would Santa do?

      September 7, 2010 at 9:43 pm |
    • maria

      Jim: I use to go to Gainesville ...nice town my daughter went to college there ,in each corner is a church is just business ,anyone can be a pastor ,just read the Bible and learn it and you became a pastor ,this pastor is a moron he is doing it for the five minutes of fame ....this pastor should be in jail for every American they kill because the burning of the Quran.

      September 7, 2010 at 11:29 pm |
  9. destinyinabox

    And I [Jesus], will ask the Father and he will send you another Paraclete to be with you forever (John 14:16). I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come (John 16:12-13). the proof of Prophet Muhammad being the last..THIS IS HOW I KNOW most of ya Christians don't even read..before judging judge based on fact not act based on a small group..if Islam/muslim are so evil. then all muslims are all strapped with bombs and ready kill..think..use ur brain research have an open mind of other religions and learn it..

    September 7, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  10. mideast chick

    One less for the gene pool..

    September 7, 2010 at 9:36 pm |
  11. Sam

    When reading this, I ask you to slow-down and breath. The multiple posts from people screaming death to Christians and death to muslims are the same. The only difference is the title of the post and the name writing it. All of them hold the same “Don’t Tread on Me” mentality. Which everyone has a right to feel. I only want to say a few things and will be done.
    First, before the tragic day of 9-11, when has the American population really heard of these so called radical muslims? The “Radical Muslims” are retaliating to what we have done, because we retaliated to what they have done. We have empowered the bigotry even more by portraying such hatred to something that many don’t understand. The powers that be have played on a natural instinct of survival. We are speaking, and acting, out because our basic sense of Christianity is being threatened. Much like the muslims. The middle east is hating us, because we are hating them. We let the terrorists and media play us like a fiddle. The quote is true, “A person is smart, but a crowd can be dumb.”
    Second, if we look back in our history books, which many are historically inaccurate when it comes to this subject, on the history of the Native Americans. The ancestors of current Americans came to this country looking for freedom of religion, freedom to express and live as they see fit. The natives didn’t fit what they felt was right. Because of this, they tried to kill the natives. With the basic instinct of survival, the Natives fought back, and still are.
    Lastly, I want to point out that I am not for the Islam beliefs, but I am also not for book burnings, flag burnings, etc. These are all acts of ignorance. The fire that burns the flags, books, and in some places bodies, is the fire that burns the foundation of humanity. My point, is that if somebody breaks down your front door, and you strip down theology, race, location, you still have the instinct to survive and protect your own. There is this one world. When it is gone, so are we. What are we doing to make it better constructively?
    I am open to any constructive conversation. But I said my piece.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
  12. James

    Freedom of speech has been redefined by a liberal court. It has become a stone around our necks. If democracy is going to survive, the supreme court must revisit some of the liberal theology give aways that is embarrrassing America at the least, and could embroil the military in more conflicts. The media also plays a role in this as an agitator. They do not have to cover the actions of the florida church, but choose to do so, to spread the hate world wide. Shame on them.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  13. Sal

    1) To the libs who continue to blame Bush: You have to continue to point the finger at him to distract from what your lamebrain asswipe acting Imam, I mean president, is doing to ruin this country.
    2) If the preacher wants to burn those books of fiction, it's his right. Just like it's your right to protest him doing it! Don't forget the freedoms you enjoy, are also the same he enjoys. Let's roll!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:32 pm |
  14. Brian

    I sincerely believe that all of you people who think burning a Quran will solve anything are the main group of people that are wrong with this country. remember if you burn a Quran you are not only angering terrorist and radical extremist but you you are also insulting millions of people religions and faith. And we are supposed to live in the land of religous freedom and tolerance. makes you all sound like a bunch of hypocrits to me. there are so many more important things that we as a nation could be focusing on but No we have a "in my opinion" idiotic preacher who wants to remember the worst day in american history by insulting millions of people who have the right to believe what they want to believe. either way the preacher should be ashamed either by actually believing what he is doin is right or by just using this stunt for publicity on a day that should be sacred for americans. i read that he said he was going to pray about his decision. well if he goes through with it then i dont know what god he is praying to but it doesnt sound like any god of mine. remember god loves all of his children. not just the ones who are christians. im sorry to go on for so long but intolerance really hits a nerve for me.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
    • Bill

      It's just a damn book

      September 7, 2010 at 9:35 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      Its a clash of the religions, you should be more tolerant and understanding and allow them to burn. If you preach Christianity over there its a death sentence. Relative to what they do, burning the Quran here should be considered a feeble act,, if that..

      September 7, 2010 at 9:41 pm |
    • American Awareness

      The problem is islam is NOT peaceful and you cannot reason with people who want you dead no matter what comes out of your mouth. You are an Infidel...I have just tired to have conversations with many on facebook and I'm letting you know first hand they want America and Isreal DEAD.

      September 8, 2010 at 3:41 am |
  15. Ron

    Has anyone read the Quran? Nearly every page has a verse bashing nonbelievers...sometimes calling for their death... So why should I respect this book?

    September 7, 2010 at 9:29 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      Because we are submissive and PW.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:33 pm |
  16. Kay

    Amazing......a gun-toting "minister" with 50 followers has attracted worldwide attention with his crazy, intolerant antics! I'm ashamed to give him credence by responding!

    September 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  17. Don Beal

    Burning the Koran is beyond idiotic. We focus on Islamic terrorists and forget Muslims who are our allies in the battle against those terrorists. I'm not a Muslim and I know my beliefs are not highly regarded by Christians, but I do think I am practical. We should not alienate our allies in this fight. Plus we're Americans. We're supposed to be the good guys. We're supposed to stand up for freedom, fair play, justice, and people's rights Remember? An American author made the statement that during WWII when a bunch of young, heavily armed soldiers came to town, it meant trouble. But not if it was Americans. Are we here in the early 21st century unworthy successors of the Greatest Generation? We are supposed to stand up for the underdog. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe there isn't anything special about being an American. Maybe we're just as bad as the rest of them. But I refuse to really think that. We all should.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm |
  18. Electromagnetic

    I hope that the Islamic people will see that most Americans do not support this burning, moreover I hope that the Islamic people will see that we (Americans) are free to do so. This whole matter of Islam and fundamental religious terrorists needs to change; perhaps this burning will stir the pot to get people to think. These religions are predatorial, they must recruit and conquer to stay powerful. Push back or they will over run.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • AfterImage

      I'll have to agree with you here... I have no specific love for the Islamic faith but it doesn't take a genius to see that burning someone's holy text is wrong. That being said you have to let them do it; it's their Constitutional Right to be small minded bigots. Remember.. this is a tiny little group of nutjobs, I wish the media would just ignore these people let them have their little hate party quietly.... and alone.

      September 7, 2010 at 9:31 pm |
  19. Guest

    I blame moderate muslims for not standing up and denouncing the violence and bigotry of their religion. When their clergy antagonize the world with their extreme views and encourage mayhem, I cannot be expected to consider moderate muslims as just that. Through their silence, they tacitly endorse all that happens. That is why, much as I hate book burning, my empathy lies with that nutcase pastor who is leading this effort. I don't like him, but I like the religion of islam and its followers even less.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
    • Electromagnetic

      Im with you on that!

      September 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm |
    • CAWinMD

      If you would take any time at all and do just a little bit of research, you would find tons of statements from "moderate Muslims" who did just that - denounce the terrorists that were responsible for 9/11 and reiterating that those extremists have nothing to do with Islam. Here's a different question - what have you done lately to convince moderate Muslims that we are not at war with their religion? Because your current statement doesn't really paint you in a particularly positive light in that respect...

      September 7, 2010 at 9:34 pm |
  20. Mason

    I am concerned about the spread of the political perversion of Islam that led to 9/11, but Pastor Jones' perverse twisting of Christianity to justify endangering those whose job it is to defend us is just as bad. How dare this uneducated, bigoted, chicken-hawk. self-proclaimed so-called "man of the cloth" cause American soldiers to be put at risk! By promoting this Nazi-like book burning, he is inciting the enemy unnecessarily, making our brave troops in distant lands face the deadly consequences of his actions.

    I pray, for the sake of our troops, that Jones cancels this obscenity, and instead rallies his faithful to peacefully express their support for our soldiers in the fight against radical Islam.

    September 7, 2010 at 9:24 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.